I’ve been a graphic designer/illustrator/cartoonist for most of my adult life, but as I approached fifty years on this earth, I finally began writing. The first things I wrote made no sense because I had no idea what I was doing. My writing experience had involved writing headlines and snippets of ad copy, as well as a stray brochure here and there.
What I learned from this transition was that different forms of writing are like creating artwork in various media.
Take writing a novel, for instance. I compare that to making an oil painting on canvas. First, a sketch and color study is made of the proposed image. The paint is selected and applied according to the artist’s plan. If alterations, changes, or corrections are needed, oil paints can be very forgiving as they take quite a while to dry.
The artist may want to repaint a section or replace parts that don’t work. While the rest of the painting can remain undisturbed, one can use little paint thinner or turpentine in a cloth, and voila, the area can be repainted, over and over until it is just right. Some parts of the painting may be finished, but others may still be in a rough state. Keep in mind; the oil paints take a long time to dry – days sometimes weeks to be totally dry. A novel is much like that in that the writer has many pages to develop the story and create the story arc or arcs, while other parts of the story can develop separately until it is blended, shade, and glazed, and it all comes together.
A short story or flash fiction I compare to making a watercolor painting. While both appear to be somewhat spontaneous—although they aren’t. Much preliminary planning must take place. First, quality watercolor paper must be selected and what colors will be applied first. Watercolor paints dry very quickly. Certain areas must be given a few minutes to dry, so when transparent layers are added, the whole thing does not become a muddy mess. Once it is on the paper, that’s it! No going back and changing it.
Some stunning watercolor art can be created with proper planning and bravery on the artist’s part. Next time you look at a watercolor painting in a museum, look at how the artist makes the images with as few strokes as possible. In writing, plots need to be simplified, and the number of characters reduced because the story has to do its job with fewer words on fewer pages quickly. The story arc is going to be right up front. Next time you read a short story or flash fiction, look to see how quickly the writer has to make their point.
Each type of writing requires a different mindset. The same goes for painting in various media.
Now, how do these approaches apply to co-writing? Have you ever played the “Fold Doodle” game? Someone takes a sheet of paper and folds it horizontally into narrow sections then draws the head of a person or thing on the top section. They fold that section under and another adds to the drawing on the next section then folds it over and passed it on. This process continues until the paper is used up. It is then unfolded to reveal the drawing by many different hands. Sometimes it is hilarious, other times a disaster.
People have asked us many times how we write together, and the answer is communication and planning. Whether we are writing a novel, a short story, or a blog post, the best thing to do is check in with your co-writer along the way to make sure you are both in the right mindset for the story at hand and the results will be beautiful.
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